2 Philadelphia leaders call out Mayor Kenney over gun violence response

"It's a lack of coordination, lack of transparency and lack of direction from the man who is at the top," said one councilwoman.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Philadelphia City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart and Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, whose district is one of the most vulnerable to the gun violence crisis, are calling out Mayor Jim Kenney's administration over its response to the issue.

"It's a lack of coordination, lack of transparency and lack of direction from the man who is at the top," said Gauthier.

"There are certain things under the mayor's control at the city level that don't have to do with police. We're talking about the items that are actually under the mayor's control at the city level. He can actually put more recreational programming to keep young people active; he can do trauma treatment. The City of Philadelphia gets $1 billion a year into mental health services," said Rhynhart.

Both city leaders say they are not talking about the federal and state partnerships with law enforcement that the mayor's office included in their response. They are specifically talking about programs at the city level that ultimately address gun violence.

Even though the city has touted several anti-gun violence programs, both leaders say there are no detailed plans and that is hindering them.

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"I really don't understand why they take so long. I understand this is a less crime area but we still need help too," said Deanna Jackson.

Both leaders do applaud the recent approval of $13 million for 31 anti-violence programs, but they'd like details as to where the money is going and details of what specifically it will do.

In July, Gauthier and Rhynhart suggested eight objectives with comprehensive and urgent responses to gun violence, specific to the 14 zip codes hit hardest. They claim the Kenney administration, in emails and in a brief meeting with top officials that did not include the mayor, said by the fall they would have more details to share, but they never did.

Kenney declined to call a gun violence emergency for the city in July saying it would not unlock funding.

But there was an executive order for the emergency response to the opioid epidemic.

The mayor's press office released a statement, shown in full below, listing their responses and citing some of them for the reduction in crime specifically in Southwest Philadelphia.

A spokesperson added, "The Mayor firmly rejects and is deeply offended by the notion that he and his administration has not taken the epidemic of gun violence seriously. We will continue to work with our criminal justice and community-based partners to address this challenge, save lives, and protect communities in every corner of Philadelphia. Our administration is resolved to devote every remaining day of Mayor Kenney's time in office to stopping this senseless violence in its tracks."

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6abc and WHYY team up for a town hall on the gun violence crisis in Philadelphia, which has claimed more than 345 lives this year.

Read the full statement released by City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart and Councilmember Jamie Gauthier:

"As 2021 draws to a close, we are reflecting on a year in which gun violence has ripped our city apart. 529 Philadelphians - men, women, and children - murdered. Most of them killed with a gun. The families and friends of these victims are reeling, mired in grief. Whole communities are traumatized and afraid.

Philadelphia's shooting and homicide rates have grown and grown over the last five years, and this violence has been concentrated in historically disadvantaged areas. And that's on top of decades of racist, government-sponsored programs that over the course of decades spurred segregation and inequality, preventing residents from accessing well-paying jobs, high-quality schools, and meaningful opportunities to build wealth - and disproportionately affecting communities of color. This is unquestionably an issue of racial justice.

As the gun violence has reached record-breaking levels, we've tried to use the power of our offices to push the Kenney administration to develop a comprehensive response to gun violence, proposing evidence-based strategies to address this crisis with the urgency it requires. This summer, we took our efforts to the next level, publicly calling on Mayor Kenney to take specific action in the 14 ZIP codes most impacted by gun violence(1), including expanding programming and trauma services in those communities. We sent a letter outlining eight objectives that the administration must implement in a targeted way to initiate a true emergency response. We hoped our efforts and their widespread support would spur action by Mayor Kenney, and lead to an open and productive partnership that would ultimately improve the city's response to the gun violence plaguing our neighborhoods.

That letter, and our public demand for more action from the mayor, ignited a back-and-forth correspondence between our offices and the Kenney administration over a two-month period. The administration's replies were lengthy, but half-hearted. We asked for detailed plans and timelines; in response, the administration defended its work, asserting that every objective we outlined was already underway. But when we asked for details, few were provided. The administration pointed to its Tactical Team as an example of its "all-hands-on-deck" approach, telling us a report would be released in October. That report still has not been released. We were offered a meeting with administration staff, but Mayor Kenney declined to participate.

In the months since our last contact with the administration, we've waited for the reports and expanded services we were told were forthcoming to materialize. We're still waiting.

We want to be clear: we are wholly disappointed in the mayor's inaction. The administration's failure to answer our demands for a more comprehensive and urgent response to gun violence, including providing trauma services to those affected by gun violence and prioritizing the ZIP codes with the highest volume of shootings, is unacceptable. What's most disappointing is that since we stood together on 51st Street this past July, shoulder-to-shoulder with elected colleagues, anti-violence advocates, and community leaders to demand a comprehensive and strategic emergency response, another 905 Philadelphians have been shot, 187 fatally.(2) And yet, we are still not any closer to a comprehensive emergency response. It's hard to fathom the inaction and detachment after this year of devastation.

From the outset, our goal has always been to help stop the bloodshed in our communities and help them heal in the aftermath of years of pain and loss. We've tried to be a partner, offering policy solutions and strategies to enhance the City's response. We've leveraged our bully pulpits and the press to draw attention to the issue. We've demanded action and information in the hopes of providing Philadelphians with much needed transparency, and to keep them apprised of what's happening and what services are available to them. We've gone straight to departments and worked with them to strengthen the response where we can. We've been frustrated and angry with the mayor's siloed approach - and his words aren't matched by action.

But we're not giving up. We will continue to fight for the people of this city, to push for an end to the bloodshed and a return of calm to our streets. We will work with the community, other elected officials and civic leaders, criminal justice partners, and anyone else that is committed to ending Philadelphia's gun violence crisis. Because that's what the people of this city deserve: safety, healing, and peace."

Read the full statement released by Mayor Kenney's office in response to City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart and Councilmember Jamie Gauthier:

"We appreciate Councilmember Gauthier's and Controller Rhynhart's attention to this issue. Our administration takes this crisis very seriously and we're acting with urgency to reduce violence through many means. Regarding concerns raised about the geographic distribution of resources, the City continues to focus what resources we can on the neighborhoods most vulnerable to violence.

The City's Gun Violence Response and Prevention Strategy is guided by the Roadmap to Safe Communities, which is very much a geographically driven strategy focusing on the areas of the City that are the hardest hit by gun violence. As we know that some areas of the city are plagued by much higher levels of gun violence than others, significant focus and deployment of our strategy is placed on these areas such-as the Southwest Division, wherein Councilperson Gauthier's district lies. This includes our Roadmap tactical meetings, as well as through the US Attorney's All Hands on Deck initiative, a collaborative task force which includes the Philadelphia Police Department, the Attorney General's Office, Federal authorities, and the AGO Special Response Teams. In addition, when the City launched its Group Violence Intervention (GVI) evidenced-based strategy in August of 2020, it began in the Southwest Division. We believe that all of these concentrated efforts are what have led to the decrease in gun violence that we have been seeing in the past six months in much of the Southwest Division, though we know more must be done to lower these numbers further:

  • In the 12th district there has been a 33% decrease in fatal shootings, and a 13% decrease in non-fatal shootings.
  • In the 18th District a 45% decrease in total shootings, 40% decrease in homicide, 46% in non-fatal shootings.
  • In the 19th district a 26% in total shootings, 18% decrease in homicides, 20% decrease in non-fatal shootings.
  • In the 16th District fatal shootings are flat, while non-fatal shootings have increased 34%.

Among the various programs, initiatives, and specific efforts we've launched or started to combat this crisis in the last several months are:

  • Distributed $13.5 million in Community Expansion Grants
  • Distributed $870,000 in new Targeted Community Investment Grants
  • Launched the Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Program Collaborative to better coordinated Hospital Based violence programs across the city
  • Held the first in-person call-in of the Group Violence Intervention Program
  • Opened the South and Southwest Community Evening Resource Centers this month; these are scheduled to open on Dec. 20: South- Diversified Community Services, Southwest-Community of Compassion

Additionally, over the last several months we have been working with a broader range of external stakeholders to improve the structure and outputs of the tactical meetings that will incorporate PPD's Place Network Investigations, innovative environmental strategies from the Smart Cities program, as well as incorporate supports for home owners in vulnerable areas.

The Mayor firmly rejects and is deeply offended by the notion that he and his administration has not taken the epidemic of gun violence seriously. We will continue to work with our criminal justice and community-based partners to address this challenge, save lives, and protect communities in every corner of Philadelphia. Our administration is resolved to devote every remaining day of Mayor Kenney's time in office to stopping this senseless violence in its tracks."
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